Ensuring Fair Treatment in the Workplace
On June 18, 2009, in ‘Gross v. FBL Financial,’ the Supreme Court rewrote our civil rights laws and made it harder for workers facing age discrimination to enforce their rights. Jack Gross worked for an insurance company for 12 years, rising to a management position. In 2003, Gross was demoted with lower pay and claimed that the demotion was because of age discrimination. A jury agreed that the company unlawfully demoted him because of his age. However, the verdict was overturned by an appeals court and in a 5 to 4 U.S. Supreme Court decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas. The decision not only overturned Gross’ jury trial, but also made it much more difficult for workers to hold employers accountable for their illegal actions.
The conservative Supreme Court once again tipped the balance of justice in favor of the corporations and the powerful and against ordinary Americans. The court changed longstanding law that will make older workers have a much higher burden of proof than those alleging race, national origin or religious discrimination.
It will be much more difficult to hold employers accountable for their illegal activity. Victims of age discrimination will now have to read their boss’ mind and prove that their boss would not have made the same decision absent consideration of age.
Prior law was fair and worked. Workplace discrimination laws exist to ensure that all people, of all ages and backgrounds, who work hard and play by the rules have the means to seek justice when they are treated unfairly on the job.
These protections are especially important for our older workers, who are facing an uphill battle holding onto jobs in this economy. According to the EEOC, discrimination based on age has increased by 30 percent in 2008 alone.
Once a job is lost, it’s often much more difficult for older workers to land a new job that may require different skills sets, pay cuts, or new educational degrees. Only 61 percent of workers age 55-64 who lost their jobs in 2005-07 had been re-employed as of January 2008, compared to 75 percent of those 25 to 54.